Staunton, July 26 – Many assume that Tatarstan gets more assistance from Moscow than neighboring Russian regions do because Kazan can play the ethnic card, arguing that unless it gets more money, Moscow and Kazan will face an ethnic challenge. That is indeed part of the explanation, but it is far from the complete one, according to a new analysis.
In a 2000-word article on URA.ru, Yury Alayev, a columnist for the journal “Tatarstan,” a member of the republic’s Social Chamber, and an advisor to the rector of Kazan State University, argues that more than others, “Tatars have always been able to speak with the Kremlin” and thus have had more success (ura.ru/articles/1036265420).
The reasons for that lie with the way in which Tatarstan made the transition from a Soviet autonomy to a republic within the Russian Federation, the way in which Kazan has chosen to negotiate with Moscow, and Kazan’s ability to extract money because of its willingness to spend it on big projects of the kinds Moscow in the era of Vladimir Putin especially likes, Alayev says.
The people who came to power in Tatarstan after 1991, he points out, in their overwhelming majority were those who had risen through the Komsomol and CPSU and had no intention of giving up power even “when the compass pointer turned 180 degrees. They simply turned their back on the past in order to go forward.”
During the period of the parade of sovereignties of the early 1990s, Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev asserted sovereignty but didn’t change the social policies of the republic, did not engage in radical privatization or dividing up collective farms, but instead “continued the realization of the programs of gasification adopted already by the CPSU obkom.”
That gave him enormous support at home and flexibility in dealing with Moscow. But there was one new aspect to his approach: the republic ceased taking money from the federal budget by declaring that “all-union property” was from now on “republic” property, “within the framework of the proclaimed state sovereignty of the Republic of Tatarstan.”
That too gave Kazan enormous power, especially as it could say that without this, it and Moscow would face radical Tatar nationalism, Alayev continues. That was something Moscow was not prepared to deal with especially given the fighting in Chechnya, and it agreed with Kazan on a power-sharing arrangement.
But it was clear already under Yeltsin that Moscow wasn’t going to be satisfied with this arrangement and would gradually undermine. Thus, Kazan was put in the position of having to play defense. But in 1994, it got unexpected help from an unanticipated place: Tatar scholars discovered that Kazan was a millennium old.
That led Shaymiyev to propose the first of many celebrations and competitions in the city, the kind of activity that Moscow not only under Yeltsin but even more under Vladimir Putin very much liked, perhaps because of their corruption possibilities, and Shaymiyev also strengthened his hand by insisting on dealing with such questions one-on-one with the Russian leader, again playing to their own natures.
Putin, Alayev adds, was especially pleased to work with Kazan in order to “show to the world that a Muslim republic which not long ago had been pursuing a separatist court could flourish while being part of Russia and now some separated quasi-state formation” as was the case with Chechnya.
Those factors likely have been determinative, the journalist says, but it is also the case that Tatarstan far more than other regions and republics has conducted regular briefings for its officials in Moscow and made sure that its own officials are aware of every possible Russian Federation program that Kazan might benefit from.
The mutual backscratching of Moscow and Kazan works to the benefit of both, but there is one big problem with it, Alayev says. It is like “a bicycle” and “in order that it not fall over, the riders have to pedal harder and harder.” It isn’t clear when one or the other will stop, either because of a lack of resources or a lack of will.